Thursday, November 18, 2010

E-Book Self-Publishing Roundup

With Borders getting into the act, there will soon be four platforms on which authors can self-publish e-books directly to readers. I summarized them for comparison and thought I would share my findings.

Amazon: Digital Text Platform
This venture has been around the longest, has a reported 76% of e-book sales, and publishes content directly to the Kindle bookstore. Authors can upload a Word, html, or PDF file, which Amazon reformats as mobi file. Or authors can create their own mobi files to upload. The latest requirement is that files have active TOCs.

For books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays a 70% royalty. For everything else, it pays 35% of the list price. Authors can price their books however they want, but Amazon reserves the right to discount the book. To be in compliance with the 70% agreement, authors can’t sell their e-book cheaper anywhere else. Amazon pays monthly and deposits royalties directly into the author’s bank account.

Most DTP e-books are purchased by people who own and read on Kindles, but Amazon has released applications that that let computer owners as well as iPad and mobile phone users buy Kindle books to read on other devices (except those of its competitors: B&N’s Nook and Borders’ Kobo). Authors can track real-time sales through their DTP bookshelf, and no start-up fee is required.

This publishing platform was founded by an individual, and it distributes content to many e-readers (Kindle, Sony, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and other devices (iPad, iPhone)—but not to Amazon's Kindle. Files must be uploaded as Word documents that must be properly formatted. Authors have complained about the difficulty of getting the Word formatting right and about the “ugliness” of the e-books produced by Smashwords’ software.

Authors can price their book (or short story) however they want, including offering it for free. For content sold directly from its site, Smashwords pays an 85% royalty—minus discounts and processing fees. It pays 70.5% for sales through its affiliates. Smashwords pays on a quarterly basis, 40 days after the close of each quarter (so you wait a long time for that first payment). Authors can track their real-time sales on the Smashwords’ dashboard. Most authors report their Smashword sales to be only about 10% of their Kindle sales, but it is a way to reach many devices through one publisher.

Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!
The retail bookseller opened this platform recently and publishes an author’s work directly to its PubIt! bookstore, which supplies the Nook e-reader. Files should be uploaded as epub files. The site has a converter for Word and html documents, but users complain that it doesn't work. PubIt! pays a 65% royalty on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and 40% on everything else. Authors can set the list price, but B&N reserves the right to change it.

Imitating Amazon’s structure, B&N also pays monthly to the author’s bank account, but 60 days after the end of the month. For some reason, PubIt! also requires authors to supply a credit card number. Most of these venues require authors to provide social security numbers so they can report earnings to the IRS. There is no set-up fee.

Borders: Get Published
Trying to get in on the action, Borders has announced an e-book self-publishing platform, scheduled to launch Oct. 25. The venture is a collaboration with BookBrewer, which lets authors copy and paste almost any word content, including blogs (RSS feeds), into its software to create epub files. This venue looks like it will be the easiest for authors who have few technical skills.

Borders plans to publish its content to various devices, such as its own Kobo as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Android powered tablets (but not to its competitors: Kindle and Nook). Unlike the others mentioned so far, Borders charges a set-up fee of $89.99 to distribute the books. Or it will sell you the e-book file it creates for $199 and you can do whatever you like with it. This makes the venture both a vanity press and an e-book creation service. But keep in mind there are several other e-book creators that offer this service for a lot less money. (Booknook is my personal favorite.) Borders has yet to announce royalty or payment terms.

This is a distribution company, rather than a publishing company. Authors have to supply both mobi and epub files to INgrooves, which then distributes the books to various e-readers and e-books stores, including Amazon, B&N, Sony, Borders, and iBook. For authors who want a one-stop experience, this could be the best choice.

Authors set their own prices and choose where they want their book sold or not sold. For example, an author can upload directly to Amazon DTP (for maximum sales/profits), then use INgrooves to distribute everywhere else (which is what I've done). As a distributor with hundreds of books, INgrooves can negotiate higher royalties than an individual author may be offered, and it adds new retail venues regularly. INgrooves charges a $50 set-up fee per book and keeps 5% of sales. It pays authors once a month, unless they have less than $200 in sales, then it waits until the author has accumulated $200.

It will be interesting to watch these ventures and see which ones thrive in a market dominated by Amazon.

Authors: What platforms have you used and what has been your experience?


L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, and the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club , Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death, and two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. All are available on Kindle for $2.99. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
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  1. Thanks for the great summary. I'm sending the link to a friend who has been trying to figure this all out.

    Have a great day.

  2. Great information to have about all the different platforms. I think I'll be skipping Border's for now. LOL I am surprised that they decided to charge when their main competitors are not.

  3. I've used the Amazon dtp and Smashwords. Both were pretty easy, once I gave up and followed the directions. ;)

    Marian Allen

  4. Thanks for the summary - I've got books and short stories with Smashwords (I like that I can set the price as 'free' for short works) and also at the Kindle store. I like Smashwords because it formats a word doc so books can be offered at other venues -- I've seen a lot of downloads from Sony, Kobo and B&N from my Smashwords site. I haven't tried uploading to the other sites on my own.

    And Smashwords isn't hard to use at all--as Marian said, you have to follow directions. They're very detailed (but 90% of that is geared toward those who are clueless about using Word formatting)

    It's hard when someone--anyone--says 'not nice' things about your baby. However, I've also heard an author say that people said they noticed a review of her book in a specific publication and were impressed that she got noticed. What they apparently didn't pay attention to was that the reviews were on the scathing side.

    I used to get irritated when people got things wrong in reviews, especially if that was the basis of their negativity. But you're never going to please everyone. I've had reviews saying there's too much sex, and just as many saying they want more.

    You have to buck up and remember 'there's no such thing as bad publicity.' Then go eat some chocolate.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  5. Information overload. (g)
    So far I'm on Amazon kindle and Smashwords. Now I have to do all the stuff for the other places.
    It's never ending.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. I'll be playing with my upload to amazon for the Kindle tomorrow. Should be interesting.

  7. I've used Amazon, Smashwords and Pubit!. All claim to be user friendly, but I think it depends on the user :-). Amazon and Smashwords have pretty good support teams; Pubit!--NOT. Amazon also has myriad forums to aid publishing and marketing. No wonder they're ahead of the game.
    Borders--ha ha ha ha

  8. Lots of excellent info here, LJ! And more from the other comments. Great post and comments!

  9. Great post LJ.

    My books are all on Kindle because the platform makes publishing so easy and hits a majority of the market. Maybe this will inspire me to get to smashwords tomorrow and convert more of my books.

    I'm excited to see what Christmas brings to the market.

    Informative as always LJ.


  10. very strange - apparently two of my comments got merged out there in cyberspace.

  11. Good advice. I was told that Amazon was every 90 days. Perhaps the monthly payment plan is new. I'll check into your other options. I would like help with formatting.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  12. This is great to know. I've been interested in using Smashwords and Kindle to upload my next book and some short stories.

  13. Great post! Very helpful.

    I own an iPad but Kindle is my favorite platform. I read on my iPad, my laptop and my Android phone. It's excellent and cheaper than iBookstore.


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